Archive for June 2009

Change?

June 23, 2009

In Monday’s Wall Street Journal, Professor Fouad Ajami wrote a typical WSJ opinion column. It is very possible that Ajami truly believes that President Obama is naive in his dealings with Iran but I think Ajami is more worried that someone might stick with another approach (than his) towards Iran and make progress.

Ajami writes of Obama calling him a novice and built in the likeness of Jimmy Carter. Ajami says that Obama must take into account the history that has preceded today, and not believe that simply a fresh approach will be welcomed. In other words, continue to follow in the steps of George W Bush, call Iran a member of the axis of evil, and shout for all sorts of tough sanctions.

Interestingly Ajami’s position is actually a politically safe one. If the Administration calls Iran every name in the book, and ultimately Iran acts dysfunctionally (like continuing to support Hamas and Hezbollah, or militarizing their nuclear program), the Administration can say, “see, we told you they were bad and that’s why we have been tough”. On the other hand, if Iran acts more cooperatively, the Administration can easily say, “see, our toughness has intimidated Iran and they have chosen to act properly”. Win-win.

Contrary to what Ajami proposes, President Obama (with much advice from Special Ambassador Dennis Ross) is well aware of the entire Iranian situation. For example, both the Revolutionary Guard leaders and the Ayatollahs themselves are now well into running profit making enterprises that have made life quite good for them personally. This current election dispute, in a major way, threatens their nice life.

Iran’s public policies, especially those versus its neighbors, are complex and influenced by history as well as personal gain. US thinking that if we simply side with those in the Iranian streets, we will in some way help cause a Government overthrow and in its place see a democratic (or even US friendly) government, are dreaming very unrealistically.

Like so many of the other problems facing the US and President Obama, we can not be sure he will be successful in the short term. What I think we can believe is that the type of “change” Obama has brought (realism), we will do no worse than Bush/Cheney and most probably much better.

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The Neoconservative Chorus

June 22, 2009

If you want to see what lies ahead if a Republican conservative is elected President again any time soon, check out the pages of the The Weekly Standard. A free press is an important part of the American way but it is not without its dark side. From this pulpit, a slice of conservatism spews out babble and nonsense. Most hideous is the notion that the American memory is so short it can not recall the exhortation The Weekly Standard lavished upon Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowicz, Pearle, and ultimately George W Bush. We have Iraq, enhanced interrogation, and a failed foreign policy to thank neoconservatives for.

It is no surprise that The Weekly Standard (as well as other leaders such as Senator Lindsay Graham) is criticizing President Barak Obama for his relatively restrained reaction to the uproar in Iran following the recent Presidential election. These right wingers believe in “shout now”, think later. They enjoy puffing up their chests, push forward their American flag emblems, and trying to shout louder than the colleagues. This crowd is lead by a cabal of chicken hawks, those who advocate military action but prefer to send the sons of daughters of other people to carry out the dirty work.

What is surprising and insightful is the theme adopted by the The Weekly Standard. This is undoubtedly the sound of more to come. They are labeling President Obama as a “weak President” ! They mistake a deliberate choice which they do not endorse with indecision. But is this a political mistake as well as sign of another try at failed policies?

President Obama continues to enjoy an over 60% approval rating even while many of the policies he is pursuing to combat other issues facing the country are not viewed as favorably. Looking ahead to the mid term elections, we could see a theme calling for the election of strong Republican leaders to compensate for a weak chief executive. Crap stinks and creme floats. This conservative strategy will soon be seen for what it is, another failed neoconservative idea.

One Third Approve

June 21, 2009

Congressional approval ratings continue to run in the gutter. Roughly one third of voters rate the job Congress is doing as good or excellent. Or saying it differently, a veto proof majority of voters disapprove of Congress’s job. I wonder why?

Most often cited is the notion that members of Congress are corrupt. I wonder whether the observation of special interest groups pulling the nose ring of their Congressman and there being an immediate turn to the direction favorable to the special interest is an indicator? Or could it be the nice clothes or fancy haircuts these $ 150,000 a year representatives and senators sport? It could be all this, but for sure it is more.

I would submit that Congress’s inability (or unwillingness) to speak to issues openly and completely portends a deep seated failure of both Congress and the voters.

Congress is stuck in the “free lunch” and “false choice” ruts, and voters are too lazy to challenge the clearly empty rhetoric their Congressman are serving up. For example, why waste time discussing health care reform without recognizing we must first pay for what we are receiving now? Why waste our time without recognizing that health care should be an expense each American knows and is personally involved in trying to control? Why should Government and most business employees receive health care coverage and those without work or between jobs must pay many times more for coverage if they can get it? Why would a government administered (fully funded) insurance program represent a risk to the overall health care system when the same private insurers are still available?

Americans can not always hear, at the very moment, politicians using “slight of mouth” trickery.  Voters often miss hearing a free lunch option (unfunded benefits) or the offer of a false choice (government insurance versus good medical care). But over time and following many repetitions of this type of rhetoric (with virtually no other useful output), the general impression forms in voters’ minds.

President Obama needs to redouble his efforts to spell out his changes, why they are necessary, and how he wants to pay (fully) for them. Public opinion polls will judge the American opinion and then we can measure the Congressional courage.

The Wisdom of Saying Little

June 20, 2009

There have been many calls, mostly from right wing chicken hawks, for President Obama to speak out on the recent Iranian disputed election. Disputed in the western press, but not disputed in the minds of the winning party or with the religious leaders who hold the trump cards in Iranian politics.  President Obama is following the wisdom of saying little.

President Obama has chosen a prudent path, at least for the time being. His right wing critics, like former UN Ambassador John Bolton, are all for bellicose speeches threatening sanctions and other restrictions. It sounds as if these chicken hawks are not focusing on global issues but rather are enjoying each other puffing up their chests and shouting stronger vitriol than their colleagues.

Wisely President Obama realizes that if there is to be any chance for neogtiations and accommodations with Iran over issues such as stabilizing Afghanistan and Iraq, or dealing effectively with Hezbollah and Hamas, there must be a productive relationship with the Iranian leaders, who ever they may be. With the religious leaders and the military standing behind President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the power and its direction is Iran should be clear. You may not like it but get real and deal with it.

A potential additional benefit of silence (or at least restraint) with Iran is the message it sends Russia and China. Both countries have traditionally rejected external involvement in matters they term “internal affairs”. What Countries say to each other in private is one matter, but when chicken hawks, who are speaking really to their already converted friends, call publicly for changes in other countries’ internal affairs, unproductive relationships result. I trust that Special Ambassador Dennis Ross is providing this positive influence behind the actions of the Obama Administration.

Democratic Delusions

June 19, 2009

When the subject is passing spending authorizations, or potentially reigning in the health care cash cow, the full attention of both parties is stage front and center. And why not, each Congressmen will need the monetary favor of those who will either benefit from or be penalized by these pieces of legislation. It is therefore even more disheartening to see Congress, lead by Democrats, looking the other way on efforts to close Guantanamo Detention Facility sooner rather than later.

It is disturbing to think that any Congress person could not see the extreme damage Gauntanamo has inflicted upon the good name of America. It is even stranger to think that any Congress persons believe there is any connection between the release of any of those prisoners and the security of the United States. This is a false choice and Congress should recognize that.

There is today no shortage of suicide bombers or insurgents fighting in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Somalia, or a bunch more places that feed off religious extremists. There are a few detainees that probably have committed crimes worthy of extended jail sentences under International Law and these people should be tried and jailed. The rest should be returned to some other country and released. A recent Government estimate puts the number of trails probably around 50. So let’s separate issues.

The first issue is to close the book on illegal detention and extreme interrogation. Americans need to make peace with that ugly chapter. The second issue is to provide justice to those who are believed to have committed serious crimes (we need no political trials like bumbling third world dictatorships like).

Congress’s refusal to fund the closure of Guantanamo and placing restrictive language concerning potential actions by the Obama Administration into legislation is very difficult to understand. Deftly the Democratic lead Congress is giving credibility to George W Bush policies that have blackened the reputation of America. What are they thinking?

It Comes Around

June 18, 2009

Today’s newspapers all are covering, as news, a simple case of infidelity. The real news of the Iranian election, the fate of the Guantanamo detainees, health care reform, or the recovery of the US economy were all shortened just a bit in order to give this everyday occurrence a special place. Do you wonder why?

The subject of this coverage is US Senator John Ensign, a Republican from Nevada.

Here is a pop quiz.

  • Who supported the impeachment of Bill Clinton and criticized Clinton’s moral character?
  • Who opposed all measures around gay marriage on the grounds that it demeaned the “sanctity of marriage”?
  • Who was a member and leader of “promise keepers” and extolled the value of mixing religion and politics?

The answer is also Senator John Ensign.

The height of hypocrisy, so far, with Senator Ensign is his statement that his indiscretions was the biggest mistake of his life. Now if you believe that I have a bridge for you to buy. Ensign like so many other politicians who have worn their religion on their sleeves and who have been quick to criticize others for their behaviors or jumped at the chance to deny women their reproductive rights and gays their right for equal treatment, will sooner or later, show the world by their own hands that they are made of clay.

The real news here is “what goes around, comes around”.

Gamers and Those Shut Out

June 17, 2009

As the debate over health care reform heats up, we are hearing about many ills in the system. There are also those who tells us we should not tinker with mother nature, that our current system is the finest in the world. I am not sure what these advocates are smoking but I am sure they are satisfied with their coverage.

There has been plenty of news coverage over the cost of doctors, hospital care, and of course drugs. Any cost rising two times or greater than the rate of inflation has something astray with it. The nerve of drug companies to complain and overtly try to block reimportation from Canada of their own US manufactured drugs because they can be purchased at a lower price than currently available in the US is both unbelievable and arrogant. There is plenty to save without profoundly crippling these groups.

But doctors, hospitals and drugs are not all that needs to be fixed.

Why do we have an estimated 40 million Americans without health coverage? These people clog Hospital Emergency rooms and very often do not pay for their treatments. Further the use of Emergency rooms results in those ER costs being absorbed by the Hospital and then redistributed across all other Hospital services causing them to rise even more.  So we are all paying for those costs right now.

Gamers are those, usually young, who are in good health and simply take the chance that they will not require seeing a doctor. They take the chance and do not subscribe to health care insurance. They think that in a few years they will join an insurance plan but not just now. They game the system. Joining them are those who are shut out of coverage because they cannot afford the premiums or are denied coverage due to some pre-existing condition. The gamers and those shut out need to be included and participate on a paying basis (potentially with subsidies for some).

The righteous are quick to say “I pay for my insurance, why should I pay for yours”. Almost assuredly these individuals have their coverage through their work or retirement plan (where they pay nothing or less than half the real cost). Many are State and Federal employees who actually receive their benefits ultimately from tax payers, so some else is actually paying for their coverage. The goal of this year’s effort at health care reform will accomplish a lot if it can lower the rate of doctors, hospitals, and drug yearly cost increases. But reform won’t be complete unless the gamers and those shut out are included on a paying basis.